Photo: ©  marcgoldbergphotography.com

A wry, bracingly honest account of living with anxiety

A racing heart. Difficulty breathing. Overwhelming dread. Andrea Petersen was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of twenty, but she later realized that she had been experiencing panic attacks since childhood. With time her symptoms multiplied. She agonized over every odd physical sensation. She developed fears of driving on highways, going to movie theaters, even licking envelopes. Although having a name for her condition was an enormous relief, it was only the beginning of a journey to understand and master it—one that took her from psychiatrists’ offices to yoga retreats to the Appalachian Trail.

Woven into Petersen’s personal story is a fascinating look at the biology of anxiety and the risk factors for anxiety disorders—from overprotective parenting to childhood trauma. She compares psychoactive drugs to non-drug treatments, including biofeedback and CBT. Along the way she surveys the sometimes bizarre treatments for anxiety of past eras. She also explores the role that genetics play in mental illness, visiting top neuroscientists and tracing her family history—from her grandmother, who, plagued by paranoia, once tried to burn down her own house, to her young daughter, in whom Petersen sees shades of herself. And she describes groundbreaking research that could point the way to new treatments—from fMRI neurofeedback to the use of ketamine (also known as the street drug Special K).

One in three Americans will have an anxiety disorder at some point during their lives. Brave and empowering, this is essential reading for anyone who knows what it means to live on edge.

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